The Missa Malheur me bat is a major masterpiece in the history of music. We said this before when commenting on the recording of it by the Clerk's Group, which was meticulous but far from capturing the whole picture (cf no. 503). The Tallis Scholars, whose recent return to recording Josquin made such a strong impression (the canonic masses, Diapason découverte, see No 557) have made here one of the most beautiful discs ever recorded of Renaissance vocal polyphony, reaching not only summits of technical perfection (beauty and tuning of the lines, richness of harmonic cohesion) but also of expressive tension and commitment.
In such an interpretation this mass of forty minutes' duration will offer much to ravish the ears for many years to come, such is the resourcefulness of its part-writing (as may be heard in the overlapping of the motifs, the blocks of declamation in the Credo, the sinuous Sanctus with its unending phrases, the lively Hosanna alternating duple and triple times, mind-blowing duets, the whole structure resting on a very beautiful chanson in the phrygian mode). In the third Agnus for six voices, which is at least as attractive as its more famous cousin in the Missa L'Homme arme Sexti Toni, the expressive force of what this ensemble and their conductor draw out of Josquin's sweeping progressions takes one's breath away.
By comparison with this summit of intensity, the debut of the Missa Fortuna desperata makes a striking contrast by its very simplicity. The ease and charm of this probably early and unpretentious work (at least by comparison with Malheur me bat) makes for an excellent balance to the disc as a whole.
Twenty years after his first Josquin recordings, Peter Phillips still has the same interpretative mannerisms (speedings up at Quoniam to solus in the Gloria and at Et resurrexit in the Credo). Recently it has been one or two other English groups which were formed in the 1990s (particularly the Clerks' Group and the Binchois Consort) which have called the shots in this repertoire, but the choral artistry and sheer expressivity of the Tallis Scholars has always guaranteed that they would be one step ahead of the field. There are still eight Josquin masses for them to record, amongst which are some of his most challenging works.